Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Take that, evil mortgage company!

I still don't know for sure if our mortgage woes are behind us. They have stopped sending us nasty foreclosure notices. I sent the February payment and I verified that it has been correctly applied to our interest and principle. I have had to go back to paying with a paper check and coupon, sent through the mail since the people of PHH Mortgage are clearly not to be trusted with online payments. My theory for how this happened in the first place is that we sent our payment too early. I sent the December 1 payment on November 23, and it cleared with them on November 27th. I'm assuming whoever processed the payment thought it inconceivable that anyone would send a mortgage payment four whole days early and automatically applied it to escrow, which is what mortgage companies do when they get random extra payments from customers. WHY anyone would want extra money applied to their escrow is a mystery to me, and why someone would see a payment made out to the EXACT some-odd dollars and twenty-four cents that is our regular payment and not recognize it as such is an even bigger mystery. What I really want--an official PAPER letter acknowledging their mistake and our good standing--they stubbornly refuse to give me. Apparently we should be grateful that they didn't wrongfully deprive us of our house.

Jon, who sometimes displays a disappointing lack of grasp of the situation, declared that we will just get a new mortgage company. As if it were as easy as switching to a different brand of ketchup. I don't want to go to the trouble and expense of refinancing just so we can have a different group of assholes to deal with. I had a better idea anyway: pay the loan off early. I discovered a fun early mortgage payer calculator and discovered that if I stick to the somewhat ambitious, but sill affordable payment plan I've set up for myself, we will shorten the length of our loan by fourteen years and save $92,000--and it would give me great pleasure to deprive PHH Mortgage of $92,000.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In bed with Horatio Hornblower

A certified letter is on its way to PHH Mortgage, with copies of our online account of activity, showing our payments and a copy of my email correspondence with them. If only I had recordings of our telephone calls! The guy on the phone yesterday told us to "disregard" the foreclosure notice, but that's a little like trying to disregard an axe sticking into your cranium. This morning, I was so distracted by the problem that I walked out of the grocery store without paying for my groceries. Not like a shoplifter. I went through the checkout and my groceries were scanned and I even swiped my credit card, but then wandered off without completing the transaction. They called me back in, of course, and were very nice, but it was a tad embarrassing and I must have looked like an idiot to the guy behind me in line. That's one nice thing about living in the south--everybody was so nice. They were all "Ma'am, Ma'am, do you mind coming back for a minute?" If I'd done the same thing at my old grocery store in Buffalo I'd have been tackled by a security guard.

But the whole thing is depressing and it's more cheerful to write about what I've been reading lately.

Earthfasts by William Mayne. A spectacular work of children's fantasy. Written in the 1960's, this book has language that is markedly more sophisticated than what is found in books written today for the same age group (10-13). Set in Yorkshire, it tells of two boys, Keith and David, who encounter a strange boy who appears to have been transported from a different time. The book is deliciously creepy. Of all the time travel books I've read, this is the only one that describes what might be some consequences of a real disturbance in the time-space continuum. There is this sense of terror that you just barely grasp. I was so entranced with this book that I did a little research on William Mayne and discovered that he wrote many high-quality children's books, but also that he was convicted of sexually molesting children, in the 1960s and '70s--the very time he was writing his books. I don't know what to say about that. It bothers me that someone who is capable of such sensitive writing was causing such harm.

Hornblower and the Hotspur by C.S. Forrester. I love nautical novels in general and Horatio Hornblower in particular. While I was reading this, I couldn't wait to get home from work every day and get into bed with a cup of tea and Horatio Hornblower. At the risk of sounding absurd, I'll say that I appreciate these books even more because being an officer in the 18th century British Navy is a job even more stressful than mine--one of the few, I'd say. At least I don't need to worry about getting blown up or drowning at work. So these are your standard stories of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, but the Horatio character is irresistibly attractive. The books are not nearly as silly as the TV miniseries, which I like to watch too, but mainly because they make me laugh. Here's one of my favorite youtubes: a composite of Horatio Hornblower scenes set to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.


The Rubber Band by Rex Stout. It's one of my current projects to read through the entire Rex Stout oeuvre--the Nero Wolfe detective series. There are a lot of Nero Wolfe books, which also feature his salty assistant Archie Goodwin. They're formulaic, yes, but I like the 1930s and '40s wise guy snappy dialogue and the way Wolfe tends his orchids, rings for beer and is too fat to ever leave his house.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mortgage screw up part II

Thanks for all the helpful and supportive comments about our mortgage problems. I'm not sure if the problem is fixed or not. The good news is that when I logged into our mortgage account, I saw evidence that someone had done something on January 15th--it looked like a subtraction of our payments from December and January, but when I clicked on the transaction for details, it looks like the appropriate amounts have been applied to our principle and interest. Also good, I got an response to my email and was told that our payments have been credited appropriately. But, the email informed me, our payments had been accidentally mailed to the escrow department and she reminded me of the correct payment address. Well, that would be relevant if I actually did mail my payments, but I've been paying my mortgage electronically for over a year. But that is neither here nor there.

The bad news is that today I got a registered letter from the mortgage company saying that our house is now in foreclosure and that we must send a certified payment immediately. Fucking foreclosure. The letter is dated January 15th, the same day someone supposedly fixed our problem. Of course we called right away, and were assured that the house is NOT in foreclosure, that our payments are fine, that we are again customers in good standing.

I didn't realize foreclosure happened so rapidly. I always imagined it was something that got dragged out over months of nonpayment. The first notice we got of there being any problem was at the end of December and now, just three weeks later they say we're in foreclosure? Is that crazy? I feel like the world is coming to an end. What next? Will they show up with a U-haul and turn us out into the street? When THEIR OWN RECORDS show that we payed?

The other problem is that these asshats (the company is PHH Mortgage, btw) have the wrong social security number for me. How that happened, and how it just came to light now, when we've had a mortgage with this company since 2001, is a mystery to me, but what it means now is that only Jon can call them because they refuse to talk to me because when I give them the last four digits of my SS number, they tell me it doesn't match and now I have to go to the social security office and get a form proving my correct SS number and fax that to them.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mortgage freak out

What is the statistic? That something like 1/3 of Americans have, or are about to default on their mortgages? I never thought I would join their ranks, for the simple fact that I pay my mortgage on time, every month, without fail. And yet today, I got a letter in the mail saying that my mortgage is now in default.

Here's how it happened. Just after Christmas, we got a letter saying that our mortgage payment, due December 1, had not been received. I checked my online bank statement and saw that our payment had been sent on November 23. I checked our mortgage account, online, and saw that they had credited our account with the payment on November 27, so I figured it was a simple glitch. Jon called the mortgage company the next morning and was told that our payment had been mistakenly misapplied to our escrow, but that it would be fixed and all would be well. The person also said that he saw that we had sent our January payment as well, and that nothing further was due from us until February 1. He erased the late fee from our account and we thought it was over.

Until yesterday. I worked night shift Wednesday and had JUST fallen asleep Thursday morning when the phone rang. It was the mortgage company, collections department, telling me that our payment, due December 1, had not been received. I was wide awake in a second, saying, "Now you wait just a SECOND" and I explained the whole thing all over again. Oh yes, the mortgage person said, he could see that a payment had been received, but had been misapplied to our escrow, and that our January payment had been similarly misapplied. So now we were TWO mortgage payments behind. He also said to hold off on paying the February payment, in case it too would be mistakenly put into our escrow. He said he would fix the problem immediately but that I should call back next week to make sure it had been done.

Naturally, I was upset, and had a hard time getting back to sleep. In the afternoon, Jon called the mortgage company again to find out how this could have happened, and essentially got the run-around, especially when he asked to speak to a supervisor. It was obvious that our call had been routed to India, and they gave us a rigamarole about how the supervisor would just tell us the same thing that we'd been told all along, so what was the point of even talking to one? For all we know, the guy Jon was talking to just handed the phone to whoever was sitting next to him, someone named Rita, who was spectacularly unhelpful and eventually transferred Jon to someone named "Naomi" who was more helpful and said that the guy who originally promised to fix the misapplied payment had failed to get the signature of a director, but that the guy I'd spoken to that morning HAD gotten the correct signature and that all would be well.

Then today I got a letter saying that our mortgage was in default. I know it had been mailed before we spoke to all those people yesterday, who promised to fix the problem, but it was extremely upsetting, nonetheless. It pretty much ruined what would have been a perfectly good day off. I contacted them through email, but haven't heard back yet, and also sent a paper letter via snail mail, explaining the whole problem and asking for written documentation from the mortgage company that this whole thing was THEIR error.

Here are the facts:
1. WE PAID OUR MORTGAGE IN FULL AND ON TIME.
2. THEY misapplied the money and yet now it is OUR credit rating and OUR house that is at stake and the burden of fixing the whole things lies on us.

I am SO upset. Which is why I wrote this all out, in an attempt to release my frustration. I don't know what to do next. Call a lawyer? Has anyone ever had this happen to them?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In which we travel to Richmond

A trip to Richmond is always a pleasant prospect: it's just far enough away to be an excursion, but not so far that it's a hassle to get there. Saturday was the day of the interviews for the Virginia Governor's School summer residency program. This is a Big Deal. It's a summer boarding school program for gifted high school students in Virginia. You study in the area of your expertise, which in Drama Queen's case is visual arts. Just getting to the point where you can interview is a big deal because, at least as far as the arts are concerned, each high school can send just one student, and this year, Drama Queen was the chosen one from Charlottesville High School.

She had to prepare a portfolio, the crowning piece of which she was still finishing on Friday night--a combination of sculpture and fashion design. We set off for the University of Richmond early Saturday morning. It's a beautiful campus, although it has an air of having been engineered. All the buildings are unvarying baronial English style. You could say the same of the University of Virginia, I suppose, except that it has grown over time and there are buildings that break from the Jeffersonian style.

Of course we got lost, once inside the bounds of the campus and a long line of cars--other parents--was following me down the meandering one-way road. When I pulled into a parking lot to consult the map, the other cars did the same and there was a ridiculous scene as I exited the lot and all the other cars followed.

The interview itself went well, I think. The kids, who came from all over the state, were organized into groups of 15, and first got 15 minutes to sketch one of the program volunteers, who served as a model. Then they returned to the waiting room to await the interviews. It was in this interval that we discovered one of the arms had become detached from Drama Queen's sculpture. A safety pin would have solved the problem, but we didn't have one. What I did discover, at the bottom of my purse, was a packet of dental floss and Drama Queen managed to repair her sculpture with it--not invisibly, unfortunately, but well enough.

I had brought a book to read during the wait, but was too distracted by all the other students and their art. Most had bulky sculptures, since one requirement of the portfolio was two "three dimensional" pieces. Most also had entourages of parents and friends to help carry all the art and I was glad that we'd brought Miss G with us to help with that.

Of course, I wasn't allowed into the actual interview, but we were allowed to help her carry her pieces to the room and set them up and then wait outside the door. We debated about confessing about the broken arm, and decided it was appropriate. When the interviewers came out of the room, one of them smiled at me in a way that I interpreted as "Congratulations on having such a talented daughter." At least that's how I saw it. Now we wait until April to hear if she got in. About 1/5 of the applicants are selected.

Then we went to Trader Joe's, my first trip to this allegedly cheaper Whole Foods alternative. For years, Charlottesville residents have been agitating for a Trader Joe's of our own. I once even signed a petition which demanded that the deserving people of Charlottesville get our very own Trader Joe's, so I was excited to finally get to see one and I told the girls we could eat lunch there. Trader Joe's is in Short Pump, one of those hellish suburbs devoted almost entirely to commerce. I suppose there are people who live in Short Pump--I saw some dreary condominium towers--but all I know of it is an insanely busy street solidly packed with chain restaurants and retail establishments.

First problem, there was no cafe. What kind of upscale grocery store doesn't have a cafe? Not even a decent deli. We did find a selection of premade wraps and salads and sushi--the sushi turned out to be a disappointment. Trader Joe's is a nice enough store, and if we had one in Charlottesville I would certainly shop there, but I'm not sure it's worth signing a petition for one. Of course it was crowded, and I was confused about the theme of the store, if there was one. It seemed they were going for a sort of piratey-Key West sort of thing, but I'm not sure if that is purposeful or not.

Generally, stores come to Richmond, and then a few years later they come to Charlottesville. I remember when we had to drive all the way to Short Pump just to shop at Target!

And so ends a blog post that is probably more boring than my usual. Sorry. Tonight is my first night off orientation. That is, I will be practicing on my own without a preceptor, for the first time, and I will also be working night shift. I feel absolutely sick, I'm so nervous, even though I've been handling a full patient load for some time, it was still nice to have one nurse whose sole purpose was to answer my questions and offer support. So wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A very bad cheese

An Assignment

Please justify the existence of Colby Cheese. Try.

Bad Drivers in My World

Why is it that when people get behind the wheel of a car they immediately feel entitled to assert their imagined right to proceed without pausing for anyone, pedestrians in particular, who happens to be in their path? Two of my children were on the sidewalk, at a corner, about to cross a side street where it intersected with Main St. A huge SUV (why is it always a huge SUV?) wanted to turn right into the path of where my children were trying to cross. It's important to note here that the SUV in question had a red light--a RED LIGHT for which she should have STOPPED--but she thought she was entitled to ignore the red light, turn right, and BEEP and ROLL HER EYES at my children, who were trying to cross the street. People, I've said it before and I'll say it again, THE PEDESTRIAN HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY. Especially when YOU have a red light. Asshole.

Then my brother-in-law had an encounter here in Charlottesville, after mass on Christmas Eve. He was trying to exit his parking space, and the space was really tight due to the--again--giant SUV idling in front of him. So the SUV guy sticks his head out of his window and says to my brother-in-law, "I hope you have good insurance," and then went on to say he was going to be there for a while because he was about to load a bunch of 85 year-old ladies into his SUV. My BIL politely asked him if he could move up, just a few inches--there was room for him to do this-- so that he could get out and the man said smugly, "Patience is next to godliness." OH-my freaking God, if that is not TYPICAL of Charlottesville. This attitude of, "I need to do something, and if it inconveniences anyone, that is THEIR problem for not being patient and zen enough and everybody in the world must wait for ME." In the end, the 85 year old ladies took forever to make an appearance and get loaded into the SUV which was parked in such a way that not only could my BIL not escape, but traffic on the street was impeded as well. But let's all be *patient* despite the fact that this man could have moved his car up 6 inches, his little old ladies would still have been able to get in the car and other drivers would have been able to move.

Someone needs to take the all caps button away from me.

Hated Household Chores

Surely the worst household chore of all is taking down the Christmas tree. It's depressing, it's messy, it involves wrapping innumerable fragile baubles in ever more degraded shreds of tissue paper and it requires a trip to an unpleasant part of the house: basement, attic, or in my case, the very back of the cupboard under the stairs. We keep talking about hiring a carpenter to cut a cute little door in the wall so we can access the back end of the cupboard from the side and not have to dig all the way through it from the front, but that's one of those things that's nice to talk about but never happens. Then there's the problem of getting the tree out of the stand. Every year, when we set up our Christmas tree, the tree wobbles, no matter how tightly we screw it into the stand. Yet, by the time we take the tree down, it has somehow become one with the stand and no amount of tugging or loosening the screws will budge the tree, so I will be forced to walk it out of the house, still in the stand, while water slops everywhere. Later, Jon will have to saw the tree out of the stand, and he will drop the Christmas tree stand on the back porch, where it will be ignored until, oh, September, when I will say, "Faugh! I can't believe no one bothered to put the Christmas tree stand away," and I will carry it to the basement, only to repeat the whole process three months later.

If I could invent a machine that sucks the old water out of Christmas tree stands, before you attempt to take the tree out of the stand, I would be a rich woman. And don't say "shopvac." I'm envisioning something small and cute, that's painted red and green and stocked on the shelves with Christmas supplies for maximum retail potential.

Did you find a raison 'etre for colby cheese yet? I didn't think so.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sorry, Mr. Jefferson

It was an abundant Christmas this year, due to Santa's new job as a nurse which increased our household income by 61%. I thought I would funnel all my earnings into the kids' college fund but instead most of my new income has disappeared into Frye boots (two pairs!), dresses from Anthropologie, Christmas presents and meats from the Organic Butcher. But I'll tell you, the $10-a-pound local bacon is worth every penny.

A Christmas Adventure

My father, stepmother, sister, and brother-in-law were here for Christmas. On Sunday, I suggested that we hike the trail to Monticello, tour the house, and hike back down. It would be an easy, no stress outing, I assured everyone. Monticello is a quick five-minute drive from my house. Our recent two-foot snowfall? No problem! Surely the path had been cleared by this time. Difficulty hiking two miles uphill? Never! Why, I was running that trail at least once a week during the fall and frequently encountered little old ladies, babies in strollers, even someone on crutches. The only problem I could foresee was finding a parking space in the tiny lot at the base of the trail.

The parking lot was empty, surprise surprise, and I had the uncomfortable feeling of being the only person who missed the memo but we pressed on. The trail was covered with snow, although previous hikers had trampled a path, which, through frequent partial melting and refreezing, was slick and icy. Walking up was turning out to be not a whole lot of fun. Walking down again was likely to be a nightmare. I had described the distance as two miles each way, but I guess people tend to hear "two miles" and think that's the total. My sister asked for clarification: "So, this trail is two miles up and two miles down." I affirmed this. "Four miles it is, then," she said wearily and I realized we ought to abort the whole project. We are all operating at a superior level of physical fitness, but I called a halt and we agreed to return to the car and drive to Monticello, except for my stepmother who wanted to keep going, and did, and, in fact, beat us to the top. I was right about walking back down being more difficult. At least I got the MRSA cleaned off the bottom of my work clogs.

A tour of Monticello involves a lot of standing around, and we had an hour wait until it was time for our tour so we had been standing around quite a lot that day. Then you stand some more and listen to a talk on the front porch, and another long talk in the front entrance before squeezing into a tiny sitting room, where you stand in one place for another long talk. I heard a little disturbance to my left where Drama Queen and Miss G were standing and my first thought was one of irritation: Don't those girls know better than to touch the furniture?

Then I saw Drama Queen, gray-faced, collapsing to the floor and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Drama Queen's eyes were open but she was clearly unconscious. Her face was white, even her lips were white. I stared at her, dumbstruck for a second until I remembered that I'm a nurse, for crying out loud. I fumbled to check for a carotid pulse, forgetting the all-important first step of CPR, which is to check for breathing, but by this time she had regained consciousness and sat up, gasping, "What? What? What?" She clearly had no idea what she was doing on the floor. Meanwhile, a Monticello employee had appeared at my side--I never heard the tour guide call for assistance--and she capably got my family together and helped us out of the room. Drama Queen could walk now--her lips were still white, something I was fixated on--and she said she felt sick to her stomach. Like magic, a little waxed paper bag appeared, seemingly out of thin air--Drama Queen never actually needed to use it, and we were led to a side porch, assured by the employee that people faint at Monticello all the time, although usually in the summer. A box of tissues, a glass of water were brought and Drama Queen's color came back. She had hit her head so they got their EMTs to look at her, but she was fine. I was really chagrined later when I realized it hadn't occurred to me to ask them to check her blood pressure. Duh! A fine nurse I am, although there's a reason you're not supposed to treat family.

Poor Miss G was sobbing and my father and stepmother were shaken up too, but soon things calmed down and Drama Queen and I were driven down to the visitors' center in the emergency vehicle. My sister went for the car and by the time we got Drama Queen into the house, wet shoes off, a hot cup of tea and her pet bunny George to cuddle, she felt completely recovered. By the end of the night she was playing the boxing game on our new Wii and having a grand time. I chalk the whole thing to not drinking enough and too much time spent standing in one spot letting the blood pool in her feet, which were unusually cold and wet.

I was blown away by the efficient response of the Monticello staff. They were kind and helpful and the way they led us back through the crowds and out of the house while producing magic throw-up bags and glasses of water was so well orchestrated, it was like they rehearse such events every day. But I am sure they are well used to little emergencies.

Anyway, the punchline--because of course there must be a punchline to such a long story. The next day, Drama Queen noticed a splinter in her hand which triggered a memory of hitting her hand on something as she fainted, and we realized she had taken a splinter of Monticello--probably of the wooden chair she bumped--home with her. Sorry, Mr. Jefferson.